By LEANN BURKE
JASPER — The Jasper Plan Commission pushed the River Centre development at the former Jasper Cabinet property one step forward Wednesday night at a special meeting.
The developer, Jane Hendrickson of Boxer Girl LLC from Indianapolis, asked the commission to approve a planned unit development for the site on and around the north bank of the Patoka River near the Jasper Train Depot. A planned unit development, or PUD, is an urban development tool that allows mixed-use development on projects like the River Centre that will include retail, housing, office space and a hotel. The regulatory side of the PUD requires a developer to meet a city’s overall development and land use goals while not being bound to zoning requirements.
The PUD approved Wednesday night covers the 8-acre property bordered by the Patoka River to the south, Second Street to the north, Jackson Street to the west and Third Avenue to the east. Attorney Bill Kaiser of Jasper law firm Bingham, Greenebaum and Doll, who is representing the project, said the group is seeking a PUD because of the variety of uses planned for the structures.
“There will be a lot of activity,” Kasier said. “There will be a mixture of residential apartments, retail space and a hotel.”
Board members have a few concerns before voting on the PUD: the tax increment financing district that the redevelopment commission approved in November 2015, the flood plain, traffic flow and potential signage on the building’s facades.
Some board members wondered if their decision on the PUD would affect the TIF district, but city attorney Renee Kabrick said it would not.
“Tonight’s decision is solely related to the zoning of the property,” she said.
Plan commission member Randy Mehringer asked what the apartment dwellers were supposed to do if the area flooded. While the apartments will be built on the second floor of the development, well out of the flood elevation, the parking lots and surrounding land could still flood.
“If it’s a business, it just won’t open,” Mehringer said. “But if it’s your home, you’re still going to want to go home and go to bed.”
Engineers from Indianapolis firm Cripe said the side of the building bordered by Second Street actually is above the flood elevation. Engineer David Lach also pointed out that flooding is an inherent risk of developing near water.
“That’s one of the challenges of people wanting to live by water and develop by water,” Lach said. “(Water is) a natural attraction for us, but with that amenity comes some inherent risk.”
Traffic flow in the downtown also arose as a concern, especially after the results of Tuesday’s election. The passage of the Jasper library referendum secured the advancement of the Jasper Cultural Center project at the Hoosier Desk property, which sits across Third Avenue from the River Centre site. Cripe has completed traffic flow studies and planned accordingly. The main vehicular entrance to the River Centre site will be off Jackson Street, the side farthest from the cultural center development. With the two parking lots included in the River Centre development, the idea is for River Centre to be a destination, meaning people would park and walk around, cutting down on the traffic. Second Street is also planned to be converted into a smaller road since the main pedestrian entrance to the complex is planned for that side of the building. The busiest time for vehicular traffic would likely be check-out time at the hotel, but even then, cars won’t be moving quickly.
“The design, intent and thought is that (the area) is a very pedestrian-friendly area,” Lach said. “It shouldn’t be a high-speed zone at all.”
The longest discussion Wednesday covered potential signage for retail spaces in the development. As written, the PUD allows up to 500 square feet of signage per building facade, or a total of 4,000 square feet on a 120,000 square-foot building. Board members worried that much signage would be gaudy. Kaiser pointed out that those numbers were modeled off PUDs in other cities and that the number was a means of planning for future needs. Commission president Paul Lorey suggested changing the rule to 200 square feet per retail store or a similar model, which led to a discussion about if such an downshift would discourage businesses from having larger spaces, such as Libby’s Ice Cream that takes up a large space and uses more than 200 square feet of signage at its Courthouse Square location. In the end, the board chose to keep the signage as it was written in the original PUD and passed the measure unanimously. The PUD now moves to the Jasper Common Council for final approval at that group’s next meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 23, at City Hall, 610 Main St. The
Representatives for River Centre were happy with the board’s decision Wednesday and are excited to move forward with the project. Kaiser said the River Centre development coupled with the approval of the Jasper Public Library’s referendum “bodes well for what’s going to happen on the riverfront.”